TRIPLE THREATS

Har­den, West­brook pro­duc­ing his­toric feats

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

NBA his­tory is un­der as­sault. The as­sailants play the same po­si­tion, but go about their busi­ness in dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent ways, each highly ef­fec­tive. Ya­hoo NBA writer Michael Lee summed it up per­fectly in a re­cent tweet: “Rus­sell West­brook triple dou­bles are like death metal. James Har­den triple dou­bles are like smooth jazz.”

West­brook and Har­den, for­mer team­mates on the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der, have pro­duced amaz­ing hard­wood feats through one-quar­ter of the NBA sea­son, post­ing num­bers we haven’t seen in sev­eral decades. West­brook has been un­leashed, thanks to Kevin Du­rant sign­ing with Golden State. Har­den has been en­er­gized af­ter a shift to point guard un­der first-year Hous­ton Rock­ets coach Mike D’An­toni.

Both have been pro­lific scor­ers in the past, with West­brook win­ning the ti­tle in 2014-15 and Har­den fin­ish­ing sec­ond to Stephen Curry last sea­son. But they are so much more in their new cir­cum­stances, maybe enough to join some elite, sto­ried com­pany.

Os­car Robert­ston is the only NBA player to av­er­age dou­ble-fig­ures in points, re­bounds and as­sists in a sin­gle sea­son (1961-62). En­ter­ing Fri­day’s con­test against Hous­ton, West­brook is right there with the “Big O,” av­er­ag­ing 31.0 points, 10.9 re­bounds and 11.3 as­sists. He has posted triple-dou­bles in six con­sec­u­tive games.

All other NBA play­ers com­bined ac­counted

for 11 triple-dou­bles through Tues­day; West­brook has 11 by him­self. In 22 games.

“I know there’s so much talk about Rus­sell and what he’s do­ing, be­cause what he’s do­ing is re­ally in­cred­i­ble, re­mark­able,” Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van told re­porters Mon­day af­ter West­brook had 32-13-12 against At­lanta. “Ob­vi­ously the league hasn’t seen some­thing like this in a long, long time.”

Har­den en­tered Wed­nes­day’s game against the Los An­ge­les Lakes with four triple-dou­bles this sea­son, good for sec­ond place. But he leads the league in as­sists and ear­lier this sea­son be­came the first player since Magic John­son to post back-to-back 30-point, 15-as­sist ef­forts.

Such num­bers bring to mind Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who in 1972-73 be­came the only player to lead the league in scor­ing and as­sists in the same sea­son.

Known as an ex­plo­sive, but ball­hog­ging scorer in years prior, Har­den is hav­ing his best sea­son ever in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pace-and-space sys­tem D’An­toni un­veiled with the Phoenix Suns, pre­cur­sors to the Golden State War­riors. Har­den put up 29-15-13 Sun­day in a dou­ble-over­time thriller as Hous­ton snapped the War­riors’ 12game win­ning streak.

Could Har­den be­come the first player to match Archibald?

“I thrive on scor­ing the basketball and cre­at­ing shots for my team­mates,” Har­den told Ya­hoo ear­lier this sea­son. “I go into ev­ery game do­ing what it takes to win, whether it’s as­sists, whether it’s scor­ing, re­bound­ing, what­ever it is. [D’An­toni] puts a lot of trust in me, and my team­mates do as well.”

In ad­di­tion to lead­ing the league with 11.6 as­sists per game, Har­den is fourth in scor­ing at 28.7 points per game. Here’s the thing, though:

Even as we fix­ate on triple-dou­ble magic, West­brook is closer to pulling off the Tiny feat.

West­brook is sec­ond in the NBA in scor­ing and sec­ond in as­sists. In­cred­i­bly, he could ac­com­plish some­thing that hasn’t oc­curred in 54 years (Robert­son), or 43 years (Archibald). He might even do both.

Chat­ter about his phe­nom­e­nal sea­son abounds and West­brook is the only per­son unim­pressed. “I get sat­is­fac­tion in win­ning,” he told re­porters Mon­day, con­tin­u­ing to down­play the num­bers as he’s done all sea­son. “That’s the most im­por­tant part to me. My guys do an amaz­ing job of work­ing on their games and mak­ing my job easy, and my job’s to be able to find those guys.”

The Thun­der, 6-0 dur­ing West­brook’s streak, has played bet­ter than ex­pected af­ter Du­rant’s de­par­ture. West­brook fig­ured to be a lead­ing MVP con­tender given his per­sonal drive and pre­sumed de­sire to prove he doesn’t need KD. But the rest of the team is fol­low­ing suit.

“You could see it in the sum­mer­time,” guard An­thony Mor­row told re­porters Mon­day. “He never backs down from a chal­lenge. I think where some peo­ple may have seen this as a tough sit­u­a­tion for him with all those guys leav­ing ... he trusted in us and def­i­nitely trusted in him­self, and you see what he’s do­ing. He’s lead­ing us and do­ing a great job.”

Har­den has been freed not only by the ad­di­tion of D’An­toni, but the sub­trac­tion of Dwight Howard clog­ging the mid­dle. The floor is less crowded as Har­den probes and slashes, al­ways ready for a kick­out to new­com­ers Ryan An­der­son and Eric Gor­don, among oth­ers. En­ter­ing their game against the Lak­ers, the Rock­ets were tied with Mem­phis for fourth in the Western Con­fer­ence.

Har­den’s game is more fun and West­brook’s is more fierce. Both play­ers have bog­gled our minds and stretched our imag­i­na­tions thus far.

His­tory might prove to be in­sur­mount­able in the end, with Robert­son and Archibald re­tain­ing their prece­dents.

But West­brook and Har­den are giv­ing them scares and giv­ing us thrills.

● Brook­lyn-born and Howard­e­d­u­cated, Deron Sny­der writes for The Wash­ing­ton Times on Tues­days and Thurs­days. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ DeronSny­der.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Ok­la­homa City Thun­der guard Rus­sell West­brook looks to joins Os­car Robert­son as the only player to av­er­age dou­ble-fig­ures in points, re­bounds and as­sists in a sea­son. Hous­ton Rock­ets guard James Har­den (be­low) ear­lier this sea­son was the first player since Magic John­son to post back-to-back 30-point, 15-as­sist games.

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